A BLINK OF THE SCREEN
by Terry Pratchett
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Terry Pratchett did not burst on the scene in 1963 with the publication of his short story “The Hades Business.” Instead, he scribbled forgotten short stories and vignettes for almost a decade more before he discovered that he is more at home with the novel length with the publication of The Carpet People, in 1971, another instance of him not bursting on the scene. Many of the short stories Pratchett wrote between those two events, as well as several written more recently, are collected in A Blink of the Screen, Pratchett’s first generally available collection of short fiction.1
The collection opens with “The Hades Business,” which introduces the recurring theme of death into Pratchett’s writing. The story has something that many of those that follow it lack, notably, the fact that it is a complete short story. Too often, the works included in A Blink of the Screen don’t quite manage to achieve the status of a short story, lacking for character or plot, and instead are vignettes built around a humourous idea. There are a few exceptions in the first part of the collection, in which Pratchett actually does commit short story. This merely supports the statement that Pratchett makes in one of his introductions that he finds writing short stories much more difficult than writing novels. In fact, one of the short stories that he includes in A Blink of the Screen, “The High Meggas” from 1986, was only recently turned into the basis for a series Pratchett has begun publishing with co-author Stephen Baxter.
The last portion of the collection includes a variety of short stories and ephemera Pratchett has written about his most well-known work…The Discworld. The stories in this section have a tendency towards being fully realized stories set within the larger creation of Pratchett’s fantasy world, beginning with “The Troll Bridge,” which examines what happens when a troll living under an out-of-the-way bridge finds himself face-to-face with the legendary Cohen the Barbarian, who really doesn’t want to be bothered with yet another monster. However, even as Pratchett includes stories of the Disc in this section of the book, many of the pieces are not full stories, but again, little vignettes or pieces made to flesh out the Discworld, taken from the rules of the Game of Thud or the anthem of Ankh-Morpork, written for the BBC.
In addition to the short fiction Pratchett has included in the book, A Blink of the Screen includes three sections of illustrations, incorporating artwork by Josh Kirby, who has long been associated with Pratchett’s writings. The first section includes illustrations for books which included his non-Discworld stories (as well as the cover for the original publication of “Theatre of Cruelty,” while the other two contain images associated more closely with Discworld, including a set of cigarette cards depicting the characters from Unseen Academicals.
Fortunately, despite Pratchett’s own apparent misgivings about some of the material in the book, there are enough stories, both about the Disc and non-Discworld, to make the collection of interest to general readers and not merely as a curiosity to be found in the library of those who consider themselves Discworld, or Pratchett, completists. The inclusion of these illustrations adds a nice touch and seems to indicate a certain level of Pratchettness as surely as an orang-utang saying “ook” or a skeletal figure TALKING ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS.
1. In honor of Pratchett being named Guest of Honor at Noreascon IV, the World Science Fiction Convention in 2005, NESFA Press published Once More* with Footnotes, which included many of the stories in A Blink of the Eye and presumably many of the articles which will appear in A Slip of the Keyboard.
|The Hades Business||Hollywood Chickens|
|Solution||The Secret Book of the Dead|
|The Picture||Once and Future|
|The Prince and the Partridge||FTB|
|Rincemangle, the Gnome of Even Moor||Sir Joshua Easement: A Biographical Note|
|Kindly Breathe in Short, Thick Pants||Troll Bridge|
|The Glastonbury Tales||Theatre of Cruelty|
|There's No Fool Like an Old Fool Found in an English Queue||The Sea and Little Fishes|
|Coo, They've Given Me the Bird||The Ankh-Morpork National Anthem|
|And Mind the Monoliths||Medical Notes|
|The High Meggas||Thud: A Historical Perspective|
|Twenty Pence, with Envelope and Seasonal Greeting||A Few Words from Lord Havelock Vetinari|
|Incubust||Death and What Comes Next|
|Final Reward||A Collegiate Casting-out of Devilish Devices|
|Turntables of the Night||Minutes of the Meeting to Form the Proposed Ankh-Morpork Federation of Scouts|
|#ifdefDEBUG + 'world/enough' + 'time'||The Ankh-Morpork Football Association Hall of Fame playing cards|